People: Arthur Stanley Eddington

Name Eddington, Arthur Stanley
Place of work Greenwich

Employment dates
19 Feb 1906 – Jun 1913

Posts 1906, Feb 19

Chief Assistant

Subsequent post(s)
1913, Jun

Plumian Professor of Astronomy (Cambridge), with additional responsibility from 1914 as Director of the Cambridge Observatory

Born 1882, Dec 28

Kendal (Westmorland)
Died 1944, Nov 22

Probate 1945,Mar 8 £47,237 1s 10d

Societies 1906, Apr 11 Royal Astronomical Society (Secretary 1912–1917, President 1921–1923)
1914, May 7 Royal Society
Awards 1907 Smith’s Prize
  1924 RAS Gold Medal, Henry Draper Medal, Bruce Medal
  1928 Royal Society Royal Medal
  1930 Knight Batchelor
  1938 Order of Merit
Known Addresses

74 Vanburgh Park (staying with Cowell for a few days)
  1906 34 Bennett Park (see below)
  1906–1913 4 Bennett Park (1911 Census), 2 rooms first floor, furnished: 30s per week (1909 electoral register), £75 per year (1911, 1912 & 13 electoral registers)
A1 Neville Court, Trinity College, Cambridge
1914–1944 Cambridge Observatory

Arthur Eddington, Chief Assistant (19061913). Photo c.1914 by Elliott & Fry. From Hutchinson's Splendour of the Heavens (1923). Also published on 28 March 1914 by The Illustrated London News

Arthur Eddington is one of Britain’s most famous astronomers of the twentieth century. He began his career as Chief Assistant at the Royal Observatory at Greenwich and ended it as Plumian Professor of Astronomy and Director of the Observatory at Cambridge. The Eddington limit, is named after him. He was an astrophysicist and philosopher and populariser of science. He is famous for his work on the structure of stars and his work on relativity, which he launched in 1916 with a series of articles that brought Einstein’s work to the English-speaking world. The Eddington limit, Eddington number, Eddington–Dirac number, Eddington–Finkelstein coordinates, Lunar crater Eddington and asteroid 2761 Eddington are all named after him.


Early life and education

Arthur Stanley Eddington was born on 28 December 1882. At the time of his birth, his father, Arthur Henry Eddington, was headmaster of Stramongate School, a Quaker School in Kendal, Westmorland (now Cumbria). Following his father’s death from typhoid in 1884, when Eddington was only two years old, the family (Eddington, his mother Sarah and his sister Winifred) moved to Weston-super-Mare where they were taken in by Eddington’s father’s mother. Eddington was initially home schooled before being sent to a preparatory school. In 1893 he entered Brynmelyn School, Weston-super-Mare, before moving on in 1898, at the age of 16, to Owens College, Manchester (which later became the University of Manchester), where he was awarded a first class BSc degree in Physics. In 1902 he was awarded a scholarship to Trinity College, Cambridge, going on to become the first ever second-year student to be placed as Senior Wrangler (the top mathematics undergraduate in the whole of the University). After receiving his BA degree in 1905, Eddington began research on thermionic emission at the Cavendish LaboratoryE. T. Whittaker, of Trinity College and Secretary of the Royal Astronomical Society, is said to have recommended him for the post of Chief Assistant at the Royal Observatory, Greenwich, that was about to become vacant. Eddington was offered the post by William Christie, the Astronomer Royal, and started work on 19 February 1906. Just prior to this, on 9 February, he was nominated by Whittaker and Edalji Manekji Modi for fellowship of the Royal Astronomical Society. He was elected two months later on 11 April. In 1907, he was Smith’s prizeman and in the same year, he was elected a fellow of Trinity College. He was awarded an MSc from Manchester (in 1906?) and an M.A from Cambridge in 1908. By the end of his life, he had received many honours, including honorary degrees from 13 universities.


The post of Chief Assistant

The most senior people at the Observatory after the Astronomers Royal were the  Chief (or First) Assistants The powers and responsibilities assigned to them were normally quite limited. With the exception of Dunkin, all the Chief Assistants appointed at the Observatory between 1835 and the 1930s were exceptional maths graduates from Cambridge who tended to be recruited into post more or less straight from university. Inititally there was just one Chief Assistant Post, but this was increased to two in 1896. All the Chief Assistants were wranglers i.e. had first class degrees. Two, including Eddington were Senior Wranglers i.e. top of their year. Those who held the post of First or Chief Assistant typically went on to run an observatory of their own. The ranking of wranglers ceased to be published in 1910. The ranking of those appointed before 1910, together with their age on appointment is shown in the table below:

   Dates in
1835–1860 Robert Main Sixth wrangler 27 Radcliffe Observer (Oxford)
1860–1870 Edward Stone Fifth wrangler 29 Her Majesty’s Astronomer at the Cape; then Radcliffe Observer (Oxford)
1870–1881 William Christie Fourth wrangler 24 Astronomer Royal
1881–1884 Edwin Dunkin n/a n/a n/a
1884–1894 Herbert Turner Second wrangler 23 Savilian Professor of Astronomy at Oxford
1894–1905 Frank Dyson Second wrangler 26 Astronomer Royal for Scotland; then Astronomer Royal
1896–1910 Philip Cowell Senior Wrangler 25 Superintendent Nautical Almanac Office
1906–1913 Arthur Eddington Senior Wrangler 24 Plumian Professor of Astronomy and Experimental Philosophy at Cambridge

4 Bennett Park, Blackheath. For most of the time he worked at Greenwich, Eddington lived in two rooms on the first floor. Note the blue plaque (to the left of the windows) that was put up in 1974 by the Greater London Council to commemorate him. Photo: December 2004

This manner of selecting Chief Assistants was criticised by David Gill, Her Majesty’s Astronomer at the Cape of Good Hope (1879–1907), who said ‘They enter into chief positions where they have to superintend men who know much more about practical work than they do, and they have to pick up what they can of a hard and fast hide-bound system – which they are taught to regard as unquestionably superior to all others’.


A life in Lodgings

Unlike the Assistants who came under him and lived in decent sized house of their own, Eddington choose as, Christie had done before him, to spend the whole of his time as Chief Assistant in lodgings. On his arrival at Greenwich, he stayed for a few days with Philip Cowel who lived at 74 Vanburgh Park with his wife and held the other Chief Assistant post. He would then appear to have taken rooms at 34 Bennett Park (RGO7/28 (staff list dated 20 Sep 1906) in the centre of Blackheath Village before moving a few months later, taking two furnished rooms of the first floor of 4 Bennett Park in July 1906 (Douglas, biography) and remaining there for the whole of the next seven years he was to spend at the Observatory. The inconsistency in the above dates, suggests that the staff list was not updated following Eddington’s move.


Moving on to Cambridge

Eddington left Greenwich in June 1913 after being offered the post of Plumian Professor of Astronomy at Cambridge on the death of Christie’s Cambridge contemporary George Darwin, who had held the Chair since 1883. Although many of the historic post-holders (including Airy) had had responsibility for running the Cambridge Observatory, that responsibility had been transferred to the Lowndean Professor in 1861. When the Lowdean Professor, Sir Robert Ball, died in 1914, responsiblity for the Observatory was transferred to Eddington, who then became its Director in addition to his other responsibilities. At this point, Eddington moved into the accommodation provided at the Observatory with his mother and sister. Prior to then, he had lived on his own in rooms at Trinity College.


Achievements at Greenwich and election to the Royal Society

On 18 July 1913, just a few weeks after he had taken up his new post at Cambridge, a nomination form was completed for Eddington to be elected a fellow of the Royal Society (which happened on 7 May 1914). His propsers were Gill, Turner, Whittaker and eight others. The citation given with his nomination gives a good summary of Eddington’s achievements while at Greenwich. The text of this is transcribed below. (Click here to view the nomination form).

Distinguished as a mathematician and astronomer. Author of the following papers: -

Systematic Motions of the Stars” (Month Notices, RAS, 1906);
Mean Distances of the Groombridge Stars” (ibid, 1907);
Mathematical Theory of Two Star Drifts” (ibid, 1908);
The Envelopes of Comet Morehouse” (ibid, 1910);
The Systematic Motions of the Stars of Prof Boss’ Preliminary General Catalogue” (ibid, 1910);
A Moving Cluster of Stars of the Orion Type in Perseus” (ibid, 1910);
“Discussion of the Greenwich Reflex Zenith Tube in Perseus” (ibid, 1910)[1911];
Report on Stellar Distribution and Movements” (Brit Assoc Report, 1911) [The Observatory 1911];
A Determination of the Frequency-Law of Stellar Motions” (Month Notices, RAS, 1912);
The Distribution in Space of the Bright Stars” (ibid, 1913);
and (jointly with Sir W H M Christie and Mr C Davidson); “On the Errors of a Photographed reseau” (ibid, 1907).

Because the space on the nomination form limited the citatation to about 100 words, not all the papers that Eddington published while at Greenwich were included in the list above (which contains errors in: spelling, dates and exact titles). A complete(?) list of works published by Eddington at Greenwich and Cambridge can be viewed here.


The Cambridge years (1913–1944)

As Plumian Professor, Eddington automatically became a Visitor to the Royal Observatory. Whilst the Astronomer Royal was responsible for the day-to-day running and management of the Royal Observatory, it fell to the Board of Visitors to ensure that it operated within the constraints of the Royal Warrants and to lobby on its behalf when needed. The Board normally met just once a year, in early June. Eddington remained a visitor until his death when he was replaced by Harold Jeffries.

With the exception of the First World War and the solar eclipse of 1919, it is beyond the scope of this website to cover the rest of Eddington’s time at Cambridge. His biography, obituaries etc. should be consulted instead (see below).


The First World War – Eddington the conscientious objector

As a Quaker, Eddington’s religious beliefs prevented him from taking up arms. At the start of the First World War, the British relied on voluntary enlistment. Within a year, it had become obvious that it was not possible to continue fighting by relying on voluntary recruits alone.

In January 1916 the Military Service Act was passed. This imposed conscription on all single men aged between 18 and 41, but exempted the medically unfit, clergymen, teachers and certain classes of industrial worker. Conscientious objectors – men who objected to fighting on moral grounds– were also exempted, and were in most cases given civilian jobs or non-fighting roles at the front. A second Act passed in May 1916 extended conscription to married men. In 1918 during the last months of the war, the Military Service (No. 2) Act raised the age limit to 51.

When conscription was first introduced, Eddington applied for exemption on grounds of conscience. The University however had other ideas and put in its own application for him to be exempted on the grounds that his work was of national importance. Of the two applications, that of the University was heard first. It was presented by Professor Newall on behalf of the University on 10 May 1916. Eddington was given a conditional exemption from military service on 10 May 1916. Despite his protestations, no account was taken at this time of Eddington’s own application on grounds of conscience.

In 1918, with more men desperately needed for the war effort, the Local Tribunal reviewed Eddington’s certificate of exemption and decided that it should terminate on 30 April. At a hearing of the Borough Tribunal on 15 May, the University spoke in support of Eddington, where they were also told that both the Observatory Assistants had been killed on active service, that Eddington was the sole member of Observatory staff left, and that if he were to be called up, the work of the University Observatory would cease. Despite this, the tribunal only granted Eddington a three months extension.

This decision was appealed against by the National Service Representative. At the appeal tribunal held on 14 June, Eddington attended with Newall and stated that he was a conscientious objector. When challenged on this, he stated that he had made a personal application on conscientious grounds at the first sitting the Local Tribunal (back in 1916), but that it was not proceeded with because he was given exemption on occupational grounds. The Tribunal was not prepared to consider an exemption on conscientious grounds and upheld the National Service Representative’s appeal and told Eddington that he would not be called until 1 August.

Eddington seems to have then lodged another claim for exemption as a conscientious objector. His case was heard on 27 June. At the end of the hearing, the Chairman stated that they felt that they could not give Eddington the exemption he had asked for, because as they saw it, they should not technically have been hearing the case. In the circumstances however, they were prepared to adjourn the case until July 11th, in order that Eddington might, if he could, get leave from the Minister of National Service that the Tribunal should hear it. The technicality arose, because back in 1916, on the suggestion of the then Military Representative Eddington e had been asked if would withdraw his personal claim. Eddington had demurred, but the Tribunal, on the suggestion of the Military Representative, had adjourned his personal claim until required. Now that it was required, the regulations which were in force (and which had not been published at the time his first claim was first made), prevented it from being heard.

By the time the Tribunal reconvened on 11 July, the Ministry had granted permission for the Tribunal to hear it. Eddington was then able to present letters in his support, including one from Frank Dyson, the Astronomer Royal explaining the importance for science Eddington being able to go on an expedition to photograph the eclipse that was due to take place on 29 May 1919. The tribunal accepted Eddington's claim that he was a conscientious objector and gave him 12 months’ exemption, on condition that he continued his present work.

A much expanded version of this section complete with timeline and transcripts of the reports from the local press can be found at the bottom of this page.

In 1973, Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar, retold a version of events that he claimed came directly from Eddington some 40 years earlier. Published initially in the Bulletin of the atomic Scientists, it was republished by the Royal Society in 1976 (Notes and Records of the Royal Society of London, Vol. 30, No. 2 pp. 249-260) and again in 1983 Chandrasekhar’s book Eddington, the most distinguished astrophysicist of his time. It is worth looking up, but it is difficult to fully reconcile the facts as told by Chandrasekhar with the available contemporary sources.


Eclipse expeditions

Eddington is thought to have gone on just two solar eclipse expeditions. The first was to Brazil while he was still at Greenwich. Although a complete wash-out, it did give him practical exerience in setting up an observing site under the instruction of Charles Davidson. The second was an expedition to Principe off the west coast of Africa which was organised in order to test Einstein’s theory of relativity. It was the results of this expedition (which was one of two British expeditions that sucessfully observed the eclipse), that shot Eddington to global fame.


1912, Oct 10 Brazil (Passa Quatro)
Davidson, Eddington Click here to read more

1919, May 29 Principe (Island off the west coast of Africa)
Eddington, Cottingham
Click here to read more

Einstein came back to England several times in the early 1930s. In this shot, taken in June 1930, he is in conversation with Eddington in the garden of the Observatory at Cambridge. From a photo attributed to Winifred Eddington

In June 1921, Einstein and his wife came to England, arriving in Liverpool from America on 8 June.  On 9 June Einstein gave his first UK address on relativity to an audience of about 1,000 at the University of Manchester, where he was also awarded the honorary degree of Doctor of Science. The following day, he went to London, where he was the guest of the former Labour Lord Chancellor and fellow of the Royal Society, Richard (Viscount) Haldane, who accompanied him to a meeting of the Royal Astronomical Society (chaired by Eddington) and then co-hosted a dinner for the Einsteins at his house in Queen Anne’s Gate with his sister.


The Second World War – the Harrisons evacuated to Cambridge

At the outbreak of the Second World War, five of the Royal Observatory' s most treasured historic clocks and chronometers were on loan to the recently established National Maritime Museum at the bottom of Greenwich Park. They were John Harrison’s four famous seagoing clocks H1, H2, H3 and H4 together with K1, the copy of H4 that had been made by Larcum Kendall.

Given the proximity of both the Observatory and the Museum to the River and the London Docks, it was deemed paramount by Spencer Jones, the then Astronomer Royal, to evacuate them to a place of safety. All except for H3 were sent to Eddington at Cambridge for safekeeping. H3 which was in pieces, was sent away soon after to one of the National Maritime Museum’s outstations in Minehead.

KI (left) and H4 on their display plinth at the Royal Observatory. By the mid 1920s, the Observatory had begun loaning them and the other Harrison timekeepers to other organisations where they were put on display. From Hutchinson's Splendour of the Heavens (1923)

For more about the Harrisons, their wartime evacuation and their restoration by Rupert Gould see Time Restored by Jonathan Betts (2006)



Obituary by H. Spencer Jones and E. T. Whittaker, Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society 105 (1943–46) 68

Obituary by Herbert Dingle, The Observatory 66 (1943–46) 1

Obituary by A. Vibert Douglas, Journal of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada, 39 (1943–46) 1

Obituary by Henry Norris Russell, Astrophysical Journal 101 (1943–46) 133


Biographies, ODNB etc.

The Life of Arthur Stanley Eddington. A. Vibert Douglas (Nelson, 1956) 207 pages

Eddington – The most distinguished astrophysicist of his time. S. Chandrasekhar (Cambridge University Press, 1983) 64 pages

The Eddington Enigma. David S. Evans (Xlibris Corporation, 1998) 200 pages

Practical Mystic: Religion, Science, and A. S. Eddington. Matthew Stanley (University of Chicago Press, 2007) 320 pages

Eddington, Sir Arthur Stanley. C. W. Kilmister. ODNB

Arthur Eddington. Wikipedia





Eddington’s exemption from military service and the 1919 eclipse

Due to the sensitive issues that surrounded compulsory military service during and after the First World War, only a small minority of the tribunal papers survive. In the years that followed the end of the war, the Government issued instructions to the Local Government Boards that all tribunal material should be destroyed, except for the Middlesex Appeal records and a similar set for Lothian and Peebles in Scotland, which were to be retained as a benchmark for possible future use. Fortunately, press reports of the hearings that Eddington attended do survive, and have now been digitised by the British Newspaper Archive.

Below are transcripts of five press reports relating to the five tribunals that Eddington attended between 1916 and 1918. The Cambridge Daily News and the Cambridge Independent Press carried what were essentially identical versions of the four 1918 reports. The 1916 report does not seem to have been carried by the Cambridge Daily News. The Cambridge Independent Press report in the British Newspaper Archive is partially illegible, so a shorter report from the Coventry Evening Telegraph has been transcribed instead.

Also included below, are selected minutes from the Cambridge Observatory Syndicate (held by the University Library, Cambridge). The Syndicate oversaw the running of the Cambridge Observatory and typically met just twice a year. Also included are selected minutes from the Joint Permanent Eclipse Committee (JPEC), which was responsible for planning the 1919 eclipse expedition. These minutes are held by the Royal Astronomical Society.

The JPEC meetings took place on the same day as the monthly Royal Astronomical Society meetings. By what may or may not have been a coincidence, a meeting of the JPEC sub-committee (of which Eddington was a member) was scheduled to take place on 14 June 1918, the same day that he was up before a tribunal in Cambridge. Given that a report on the outcome of the Tribunal hearing was carried in the Cambridge Daily News on the same day, it seems possible that the Tribunal may have reached its decision before the JPEC sub-committee met in London at noon. Although Eddington was unable to attend the JPEC meeting, it is possible that he may have communicated the outcome of the Tribunal to the committee chair, Frank Dyson, prior to the meeting commencing. If he did, did Dyson share the information with the other committee members and what influence (if any) did this have on the decision affecting Eddington that was taken during the meeting?

As mentioned above, in 1973, Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar, retold a version of events that he claimed came directly from Eddington some 40 years earlier. Published in a number of places, including Notes and Records of the Royal Society of London, Vol. 30, No. 2 pp. 249-260 (1976). It is worth looking up, but it is difficult to fully reconcile the facts as told by Chandrasekhar with the information given below.


1915, December 6

At the meeting of the Observatory Syndicate held on 6 December 1915, (a few weeks prior to Eddington’s 33rd birthday), the Vice-Chancellor was in the chair. Several issues relating to staffing and the running of the Observatory were discussed and the following minute passed:

‘The Observatory Syndicate deem it to be their duty to apply that the scientific work of the Cambridge Observatory, which is one of the most important Observatories in England, should be safeguarded as far as the national needs permit.

The Observatory is maintained by the University solely for the advancement of knowledge, and at relatively great expense. The scientific staff consists normally of the Plumian Professor as Director, two assistants, and one attendant.

The Junior Assistant is now serving as 2nd Lieutenant; the attendant is now employed in war work in an optical instrument works[.]

If the Senior Assistant, Mr W.E. Hartley, is called up for military duty, there will be no scientific observer left except the Director, and it will be necessary to suspend the work of the Observatory.

If it is found necessary to call up the Director, Prof. A.S. Eddington, for other than scientific work, the department of Practical Astronomy at Cambridge will have to be entirely closed down for the time and moreover his work as Secretary of the Royal Astronomical Society, the centre of British Astronomy, will be stopped.


It was ordered that a copy of this minute be furnished to the Vice Chancellor for use as occasion arises.’ (Cambridge Observatory/ObsA1/iii/118)


1916, January 27

Military Service Act 1916 passed.


1916, May 10

From the Coventry Evening Telegraph, 11 May, 1916

Cambridge University appealed on Wednesday to the military tribunal for the absolute exemption of Professor Arthur Pigou (Professor of Political Economy), Professor Arthur Eddington (Plumian Professor of Astronomy, director if Cambridge Observatory, Mr. Thomas Bedford (Cambridge secretary to Oxford and Cambridge higher grade school examination syndicate), Mr. Ernest Beyons (director of studies), and Mr. Walter Nalder Williams (assistant secretary of Cambridge local examinations syndicate). It was stated that Professor Pigou was recalled by the university last October from Red Cross work with the Italian army, as there was no other teacher in his department. Conditional exemption was for all applicants.


1917, November 10

JPEC holds its annual meeting. Eddington attends at the invitation of the chairman, Frank Dyson, the Astronomer Royal. Eddington also attends all the subsequent meetings of JPEC and its subcommittee prior to the departure of the expeditions except that held on 14 Jun 1918 when he was otherwise engaged (see below).


1917, December 4

On 4 December 1917, at a meeting of the Observator Syndicate, Eddington reported that both the Chief Assistant and the Second Assistant had been killed in action and that he had been invited by the Joint Permanent Eclipse Committee (JPEC) to take part in an expedition to observe the eclipse on 29 May 1919, ‘with a view to measuring the deflection of light by gravitation’. He went on to explain that:

‘this would involve an absence of several months at a particularly inconvenient time, for the Observatory; but, having regard to the importance of the project, and to the fact than so favourable an eclipse for the purpose would not occur again for many generations, it appeared desirable to him to accept the invitation. The Syndicate agreed with this view and intimated that they would support the necessary application for leave of absence for this purpose.’ (Cambridge Observatory/ObsA1/iii/123-124)


1918, March 12

The next meeting of the Syndicate was held on 12 March 1918. It seems to have been an extra meeting and appears to have been called because Eddington had just been informed that his exemption from military service was about to be cancelled. The minutes state:

The Director [Eddington] reported that the Local Tribunal had reviewed his certificate of exemption from Military Service and had substituted exemption terminating on April 30. With a view to the renewed application for exemption which would be necessary on that date the syndicate passed the following minute, -

The Observatory Syndicate deem it to be their duty to apply that the scientific work of the Cambridge Observatory which is one of the most important Observatories in England should be safeguarded as far as the national needs permit. In making application for the exemption of the Director, Prof. A.S. Eddington, it should be stated that in consequence of the death of the First Assistant in the explosion of the Vanguard, and of the death of the Second Assistant in action in France, the Director is the sole remaining member of Staff.(Cambridge Observatory/ObsA1/iii/125)


1918, May 15

From the Cambridge Daily News - Thursday 16 May 1918, p4

Borough Tribunal.

Vice-Chancellor on Government Demands on University.


A sitting of the Borough Tribunal was held at the Guildhall on Wednesday.



Prof. Newall appeared behalf of the Vice-Chancellor in support of the application for the exemption of Prof. Arthur Stanley Eddington (35), Grade 2, single, Professor of Astronomy and Experimental Philosophy, Director of the University Observatory. Prof. Newall said the Observatory Syndicate wished to point out that it was important that the work of the Observatory should be carried on, and Prof. Eddington was the sole member of the staff remaining since the first assistant was killed the Vanguard explosion and the second assistant was killed in action in France. The maintenance of the continuity of observation was of some importance. Prof. Eddington was doing professorial work as well, teaching those who were to become the teachers the next generation.—The-Chairman: If Prof. Eddington were to go would the study astronomy cease?—Prof. Newall: So far the University Observatory is concerned.—Three months exemption.


1918, June 14

From the Cambridge Daily News - Friday 14 June 1918, p3

Appeal Tribunal.

Professor of Astronomy and "C.O." Refused Exemption

A sitting of the Appeal Tribunal was held at the County Hall, Cambridge, today (Friday) …


The National Service Representative appealed against the exemption of Arthur Stanley Eddington (35), single, Grade 2, Plumian Professor of Astronomy at the University, director of the Observatory, and hon. secretary of the Royal Astronomical Society. The case for the University was stated by Prof. Newall, who appeared at the request of the Vice-Chancellor.

The Chairman suggested that Prof. Eddington’s ability might be better employed for the active prosecution of the war if placed at the disposal the Government. He did not think Prof, Eddington would be taken as an ordinary soldier.

Prof. Eddington: I am conscientious objector.

Prof. Newall said that Prof. Eddington belonged to the Quakers.

The Chairman: That question is not before us.

Prof. Eddington explained that he made a personal application on conscientious grounds at the first sitting the Local Tribunal, but it was not proceeded with because he was given exemption on occupational grounds.

After the Tribunal had considered the case in private, the Chairman said they had very carefully considered it, and had come to the conclusion that the services of Prof. Eddington would be more important to the Government than to the Observatory. They therefore allowed the military appeal and refused exemption, not be called until August 1st. They had not considered the question conscientious objection, because it was not before them.

Prof. Newall: I very sorry for your decision.


1918, June 14

The JPEC sub-committee (Dyson, Turner, Fowler) met at noon on Friday 14 June in the rooms of the Royal Astronomical Society. The minutes state that during the meeting:

Possible observers for the eclipse of 1919 were further considered, and it was provisionally agreed that one party should consist of Prof. Eddington and Mr Cottingham, and  possible observers for the eclipse. Provisionally agreed that one party should consist of Eddington and Cottingham and the other of Mr Davison and Father Cortie.


1918, June 27

From the Cambridge Daily News - Friday 28 June 1918,p3

Cambridge Tribunal.


The Cambridge Tribunal held a lengthy sitting at the Guildhall yesterday (Thursday),


PROFESSOR OF ASTRONOMY AS C.O. Arthur Hanley [Stanley] Eddington (33), The Observatory, Plumian Professor of Astronomy at the University, Director of the Observatory, and hon. secretary of the Royal Astronomical Society, applied for exemption on conscientious grounds. In his claim Prof. Eddington stated:

“My objection to war is based on religious grounds. I cannot believe that God is calling me to out to slaughter men, many of whom are animated by the same motives of patriotism and supposed religious duly that have sent my countrymen into the field. To assert that it is our religious duty to cast off the moral progress of centuries and take part in the passions and barbarity of war is to contradict my whole conception of what the Christian religion means. Even if the abstention of conscientious objectors were to make the difference between victory and defeat, we cannot truly benefit the nation by wilful disobedience to the divine will.”

Mr. Miller took exception to the application being heard the ground that not once in his recollection had Prof. Eddington put forward a claim for exemption on conscientious grounds. Prof. Eddington’s certificate of conditional exemption had been varied in January last to temporary exemption for three months on the ground of national interest. In April Prof. Eddington was called up, and another application was put in by the University. Three months’ exemption was given by the Tribunal, but he (Mr Miller) appealed, and the Appeal Tribunal upheld the appeal and refused exemption. Prof. Eddington then for the first time mentioned about his having a conscientious objection, and after his certificate had been withdrawn he wanted to go back to the Local Tribunal and get another certificate. He contended that such an application could not now be made.

Prof. Eddington said that the Tribunal, when the case first came before them, decided to take the University claim first, and exemption was granted on that application. On the suggestion of the then Military Representative he was asked if would withdraw the personal claim. He demurred, but the Tribunal, on the suggestion of the Military Representative, adjourned the claim until required. The present regulations, he pointed out were not published at the time the claim was first made.

The Tribunal retired for some time, and on their return the Chairman said they considered the case very hard one—hard on Prof. Eddington—but they feared that technically they were obliged to give decision against him. But on account of the hardship they would adjourn the case until July 11th, in order that meanwhile Prof. Eddington might, if could, get leave from the Minister of National Service that the Tribunal should hear the case.


1918, July 11

From the Cambridge Daily News, Friday 12 July 1918, p3

Cambridge Tribunal.

Astronomer C.O. Given One Year Esemption.



A meeting of the Cambridge Borough Tribunal was held at the Guildhall yesterday (Thursday).



Arthur Hanley [Stanley] Eddington (33), The Observatory, Cambridge Plumian Professor of Astronomy and Director of the Observatory, and Hon. Secretary of the Royal Astronomical Society, asked for exemption on conscientious grounds. Prof. Eddington had previously been granted three months’ exemption on occupational grounds. The National Service Representative appealed, and the Appeal Tribunal upheld the appeal, refusing exemption. Prof. Eddington then came back to the Local Tribunal claiming exemption on conscientious grounds. On a technical point raised Mr. Miller, the Tribunal asked Prof. Eddington to try and get permission from the Ministry of National Service for the Tribunal to hear the case. The Clerk now reported that the Ministry had granted permission.

Among the letters submitted by Prof, Eddington in support of his application was one from Sir F. W. Dyson, the Astronomer Royal, who in the course of his letter stated: “I should like to bring to the notice of the Tribunal the great value of Prof. Eddington’s researches in astronomy, which are, in my opinion, to be ranked as highly as the work of his predecessors at Cambridge—Darwin, Ball, and Adams. They maintain the high position and traditions of British science at a time when is very desirable that these should be upheld, particularly in view of a widely spread but erroneous notion that the most important scientific researches are carried out in Germany. A book written Prof. Eddington a few years ago has become a standard work of reference to astronomers in all countries who are investigating the extent and nature of the stellar universe. I hope very strongly that the decision of the Tribunal will permit that important work to be continued. There is another point to which I should like to draw attention. The Joint Permanent Eclipse Committee of the Royal Astronomical Societies, of which I am Chairman, received a grant of £l,000 for the observation of a total eclipse of the sun in May of next year, on account of its exceptional importance. Under present conditions the eclipse will observed by very few people. Prof. Eddington is peculiarly qualified to make these observations, and I hope the Tribunal will give him permission to undertake this task.”

Prof. Eddington said he had been member the Society of Friends from birth.

In the course of his replies to the questions set to conscientious objectors, Prof. Eddington stated that he did not think that the War Office could give any guarantee that a man in the Army would be employed solely in saving life, whereas in the Friends’ Ambulance Unit or the Red Cross, similar work might be done without the liability to undertake duties contrary to his conviction. He also stated that he would be willing volunteer as an unskilled labourer for the period of the harvest, to assist in saving it, if it was thought he could be of more use to the nation in that way.

Replying to the Chairman, Prof. Eddington said that the eclipse next May would be visible abroad, and he would go if possible to view it. The eclipse was an extremely important one, and an equally good opportunity for making scientific observations would probably not occur again for centuries.

The Tribunal retired for some time, and on their return the Chairman said that in giving their decision it was very far from their wish to go contrary or in any way antagonistic to the Appeal Tribunal. They felt they were not in any way opposing their view, because the Appeal Tribunal did not deal with the question of conscientious objection when the appeal was before them. It had not been before the Local Tribunal, and therefore the Appeal Tribunal could not concern themselves with it. The Local Tribunal now had leave to deal with that part of the question, and of course whatever their decision was, it would be carried to the Appeal Tribunal again by way of an appeal. They were quite convinced that Prof. Eddington was and had been, a conscientious objector. Further, they considered that his work in connection with astronomy was of vast importance, not only to this country, but to the world—to knowledge generally. Therefore they thought that it was in the national interest that Prof. Eddington should continue in that work, more especially with reference to the eclipse that they were told would take place next year. They therefore gave Prof. Eddington, in order cover that period, 12 months’ exemption, on condition that he continued his present work.


1918, November 11

World War One ends with the signing of the armistice.


1919, March 8

Eddington sets sail from Liverpool in order to observe the eclipse on 29 May on the island of Principe (off the west coast of Africa)